Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 44: On Religious-Political Holy Alliances
-FRANCISCO FERRER (1849-1909)
There is one problem however: it seems that man will never become sensible enough to govern himself … due to his unquenchable thirst and insatiable appetite to worship. The sun, the moon, a rock, a tree, a river, a god, several gods, a totalitarian leader, a holy book, an icon, a symbol, a celebrity, an athlete, a sports team—anything. Whether in sports, religion, or political ideology, the overwhelming drive to worship among Homo sapiens is hard to miss, whether it manifests itself in tribalism, provincialism, holier-than-thou sectarianism, nationalism, totalitarianism, fanaticism, radicalism, or chauvinism. "The hammer and sickle and the swastika are in a class with the cross," wrote Eric Hoffer in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951). Even in the seemingly casual world of sports, the need to worship is astounding.
As stated in Part 26 (Mob Mentality and Groupthink), Daniel Wann, a leading sport psychologist at Murray State University pointed out that the similarities between sport fandom and organized religion are striking. "Consider the vocabulary associated with both: faith, devotion, worship, ritual, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, spirit, prayer, suffering, festival, and celebration." An American city without a sports team is like an Indian chief without a feather on his cap. A country without an Olympic team is considered a pariah among nations. Once I invited a die-hard Roger Federer's fan to watch a Wimbledon quarterfinal match at home. You could actually feel his anguish and physical pain every time Federer lost a point or made an unforced error or double-fault serve. When I teased him by saying that Federer is only human, he disagreed and in all seriousness argued that Federer is actually a god.
Lest I be accused of being anti-religion, let me repeat the benefits of religion as stated in Part 6 ("You are Confined Only by the Walls You Build Yourself"). Religion may provide explanations about the Meaning of Life and why we have to suffer; it gives us a sense of purpose and direction. Religion also comforts us to deal with failures, hardships, tragedies, sickness and deaths; it defuses anxiety. Religion provides us with guidelines for everyday life; for example the code of conduct based on karma and dharma (Hinduism); the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path (Buddhism); the Maimonides' thirteen principles of faith (Judaism); the Ten Commandments (Christianity); and the Five Pillars of Islam. Indeed religion instills values about what is right and wrong. Throughout millennia, religion has provided societies with various tools to create social solidarity as well as establish social order and control.
So far so good, but social order and control for the benefits of whom? Indeed religion and state authorities have been strange bedfellows for millennia. Collusion between political and religious leaders have been the norm—rather than the exception—and there lies the wisdom and genius of Thomas Jefferson who introduced the notion of "a wall of separation between church and state."
We have been told about the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth by the Romans, at the behest of the Jews, who repeatedly shouted "Crucify him!” to the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, Pontius Pilate. Nevertheless, the Church gradually became a defining institution of the Roman Empire. In 313 Emperor Constantine issued the "Edict of Milan" proclaiming tolerance for the Christian religion, and subsequently in 325 convoked the First Council of Nicaea. The Nicene Creed included belief in "one holy catholic and apostolic Church". Then with the "Edict of Thessalonica" of 380 Emperor Theodosius I made Nicene Christianity as the state church of the Roman Empire. The rest, as they say, is history: the bloody and brutal history of the Crusades, Reformation Wars, Inquisitions, genocide of Native Americans, and the Holocaust.
And who could forget the imposing 33 feet by 20 feet Napoleon's coronation painting at the Louvre by Jacques-Louis David? Napoleon simply (and nakedly) wanted to establish his legitimacy as the Emperor of the French by masterminding a new coronation ceremony conferred by none other than Pope Pius VII. Indeed the fact that Napoleon absurdly sought political legitimacy from a Pope spoke volumes. (Hint: he once uttered, "Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.")
Moving to the Middle East, there has been another "Holy Alliance" since Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of "Wahhabism," an austere form of Islam, arrived in the central Arabian state of Najd in 1744 to preach the return to "pure" Islam (whatever that means). In a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" deal of Koranic proportions, he sought protection from the local emir and head of the Al Saud tribal family, Muhammad ibn Saud. The Al Saud would endorse al-Wahhab's austere form of pure Islam and to return the favor, the Al Saud would get political legitimacy and regular tithes from al-Wahhab's followers. In spite of the fact that in 1818, the Ottoman Empire managed to sack the capital of Riyadh and executed many of the religious and political leaders, the religious-political alliance that al-Wahhab and Saud forged in 1744 endures to this day in Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabism brand has become the other commodity (besides petroleum) currently exported to other countries.
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter